The final of the Subroto Cup at the Ambedkar Stadium between AIFF U17 and Little Angels School, Manipur on Friday saw the AIFF outfit defeat the boys from Manipur 4 - 1 to clinch the cup. While the scoreline sounds comprehensive, the manner of victory for the AIFF boys was far from it, as they were made to toil hard for the result by the first Manipuri team to reach the final of the Subroto Cup in the 21st century.
With Pele in attendance and after dance performances by school children (during which there was also an embarrassing sound system failure) the game kicked off with the AIFF boys as firm favourites. The football on display, however, was far from embarrassing as the initial exchanges between the two sides saw quick movement and incisive passing.
Little Angels looked refreshingly confident on the ball against a side which comprised India's best U17 footballers. They got their reward for their positive outlook in the sixth minute, when captain AK Loyangamba found himself free in the box after a cross from the right flank, and lashed a left foot volley into the top right corner to give his team a shock lead.
AIFF U17 looked rattled as Little Angels swarmed all over them for the majority of the half, forcing them into making defensive mistakes, launching wave after wave of attacks. It was only in the 25th minute (of a 30 minute half) when a tactical change made by coach Floyd Pinto worked for AIFF U17 - introducing a winger on the right flank who provided perfect service for striker Baoringdao Bodo on a counter attack, leaving him to simply place the ball to the keeper's left to level scores.
Both teams headed into half time with the scores locked at 1 - 1. Resumption of the match in the second half saw the team from Manipur play with even more purpose. The fluency in their game was now replaced with grit, as they killed every attack that AIFF U17 initiated. Gradually, AIFF U17's superior fitness levels began to show but they still could not find a breakthrough.
Between the 54th and 56th minutes however, Little Angels' resistance broke as AIFF U17 scored two goals in consecutive minutes to take the match away from them. The first - a scorching 30 yard right foot hit from Bangalore boy Rahul Yadav that rifled into the top right corner - was the goal of the tournament, the opposition undone by a piece of brilliance.
The second came seconds after Little Angels kicked off again. Vulnerable after conceding a goal, an error in defensive positioning found a through ball being played to Edmund Lalrindika, and he made no mistake in slotting the ball past the keeper inside the box with his left foot.
A deliberate hand ball inside the box saw AIFF U17 awarded a penalty later on in the game, and Nijwm Mulchahari saw his penalty go in off the right post, with the goalkeeper guessing correctly but unable to make a save.
The tournament concluded with some motivational parting words from Pele for the young footballers, drained by the rigours of the match. The next edition of the Subroto Cup will be held in 2016, the itinerary of which will soon be planned for the same months.